Rental pet laws, Victoria: How reform is faring a year on

Case study: pets in rentals

Simon Alexander adopted greyhound Pendles into his Brunswick home a few months after the pets in rentals law change. Picture: David Geraghty

Hundreds of Victorian landlords have tried to block their tenants from keeping pets since a major law change came into effect a year ago.

As of March 2 last year, landlords have been unable to “unreasonably refuse consent to a renter wishing to keep a pet” and only able to deny them with approval from the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

A VCAT spokesman said the tribunal had received 340 applications from property owners wanting to deny a renter’s request to take in a furry friend, or to have a pet they believed was being kept without permission removed.

Of those, just 18 have made it all the way to final determination, with 17 decided in favour of the tenant and one in favour of the landlord.

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The remaining matters had been withdrawn or struck out, with many understood to have been resolved with an agreement between the renter and rental provider.

RSPCA Victoria says the law change has saved animals from shelters, but the state’s peak real estate body says it still has concerns a year on, including the fact landlords are barred from asking for a “pet bond”.

Real Estate Institute of Victoria president Leah Calnan said the organisation had campaigned for an additional bond to be a requirement for tenants with pets, to help ease landlords’ concerns about potential damage.

“We all love animals, but they can cause an enormous amount of damage,” she said.

“Also, the current process (that) requires the landlord to apply to VCAT to decline a tenant’s request for a pet is backwards. It should have been in those circumstances where a landlord declines the request that the tenant makes an application.”

Shelter at Capacity

The RSPCA Victoria says cats are among the pets suitable for smaller rental homes. Picture: Wayne Taylor

RSPCA Victoria figures show the number of animals surrendered to shelters due to their owner moving house had more than halved annually, to 98 last year, since the law came into effect.

While this was not limited to tenants who had been forced to give up furry friends, also including people moving overseas or to pet-inappropriate properties, the animal welfare organisation’s policy and advocacy manager Mhairi Roberts said the reform had been a game changer.

“Prior to the changes to rental legislation, we regularly dealt with animal owners who had no choice but to surrender their animals to us, either to get into the rental market or when moving to a new rental property,” she said.

Ms Roberts said the change had reduced the likelihood of this, and helped “remove barriers” to animal-owning tenants finding a home.

In one VCAT case last year, Richmond tenant James Webster and his housemates won the right to keep a German Shorthaired Pointer puppy, Reggie, in their apartment.

Rental Apartment Puppy

James Webster, 30, and his housemates won the right to keep puppy Reggie at their Richmond rental last year. Picture: Alex Coppel

VCAT documents show their landlord argued it was reasonable to refuse the application for the “soon-to-be eight-week-old” dog because the home’s rooftop terrace was “insufficiently enclosed to prevent the dog from jumping over the enclosure”, plus owners corporation rules prohibited pets.

But the renters’ histories growing up with dogs, and as “responsible tenants”, the fact Reggie’s breed made “great family pets”, and the apartment was “relatively spacious” went in their favour.

The tenants also pledged to exercise Reggie regularly, rarely leave him home alone and always supervise him on the terrace, the documents show.

VCAT also ordered a tenant could keep a Catahoula Bully Stag, Rocko, in their regional Victorian rental, after the landlord attempted to refuse due to the fact they suffered allergies and hayfever that “may impact him should he decide to return to the rented premises to live”. The tribunal member deemed the landlord’s medical condition was not “a valid ground for refusing consent”.

Consumer Affairs Minister Melissa Horne said the new laws allowing pets in rentals had “made thousands of Victorians very happy, especially those living alone during the coronavirus lockdown”.

“This has been another important step in making rental houses feel like homes for tenants across Victoria,” she said.

It was one of 132 reforms that passed Victorian parliament in 2018. All of them will have come into effect by March 29.

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samantha.landy@news.com.au

Third time lucky

Case study: pets in rentals

Mr Alexander says being permitted to adopt Pendles was “a nice relief”. Picture: David Geraghty

The third time was the charm for Brunswick tenant and aspiring dog owner Simon Alexander.

Mr Alexander was knocked back twice from bringing a furry friend into his apartment. And then in March last year, the law changed and his landlord could no longer reasonably refuse him.

Just before Melbourne was plunged into its second lockdown in July, Mr Alexander had his Pet Request Form approved and took home Pendles from the Greyhound Adoption Program (GAP).

“With the new law, my landlord said ‘yes’, which was a nice relief, really,” he said.

“I’d been thinking about (getting a pet) for a long time. I didn’t want to choose a dog that just looked nice, I wanted one that was well suited to my lifestyle. And I’ve been able to support a charity — these greyhounds are in need.

“Pendles is the perfect breed for apartment living. He sleeps up to 20 hours a day.”

Mr Alexander said to put his landlord’s mind at ease, he signed a form stating he was responsible for any damage Pendles caused, agreed to get the carpets fumigated when he vacated and promised he would “only get one greyhound”.

He said the former racing dog had been delightful company and brought much-needed routine to his days during lockdown, which included regular walks to nearby Fleming Park.

To find out more about GAP, visit gap.grv.org.au

The rules

-Tenants need written permission from their landlords before moving a pet into their homes

-Landlords cannot unreasonably refuse consent to a renter wishing to keep a pet

-Landlords who want to refuse have 14 days to apply for a VCAT order

-VCAT may consider whether local council rules prohibit certain animals, whether the property is suitable for the type of pet being sought, and the suitability of the pet, including whether it poses a threat to neighbours

-A pet is considered “any animal except an assistance dog”, which can include “poultry and domesticated animals found on rural properties”

-Landlords cannot place demands on the keeping of an approved animal, such as requiring a dog be kept outside

-Tenants are accountable for any pet-related damage that goes beyond fair wear and tear

-Tenants can’t be asked to pay a specific pet bond, but landlords can make claims on (and if needed, in excess of) their standard bond to cover damage

Source: Consumer Affairs Victoria

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